Falling Through The Cracks

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11 Apr 2024

What Profound Lesson Can We Learn From  Bedikas Chometz That Is Relevant To Greeting People in Shul?

It’s a scenario that happens all too often. Despite our best intentions and efforts to be sensitive to everyone’s needs, people sometimes fall through the cracks.

Consider the setting of a synagogue, where one might least expect such oversights to occur. A visiting guest, a new family in town, or a quiet member who often goes unnoticed may not receive a warm greeting, and they fall through the cracks.

The pain of being ignored is profound. Just as solitary confinement is among the harshest forms of imprisonment, not being acknowledged and left isolated can inflict deep scars and wounds. As a rabbi, I have received more calls about this issue than nearly any other concern. Our shuls are generally friendly, and members are warm individuals, but occasionally someone is left out, and they fall through the cracks.

I know why this happens. We often rely on the “other fellow” to welcome the guests. That’s a big problem, because when everyone relies on someone else, no one is left to say, “hello”.   If each one of us would resolve to be the “other fellow”, people would stop falling through the cracks.

So, what must we do? When someone new arrives, each one of us must take responsibility to be the welcoming committee and extend a warm greeting. “Good morning. How are you? What is your name?  I am so and so. It’s so nice to meet you. Can I be of assistance? Enjoy your stay. Would you join us for a Shabbos meal?”  Imagine the powerful impact if new guests were greeted in this manner by every single member of the shul. Were that to happen, no newcomer in shul would ever slip by and fall through the cracks.

Moreover, when you walk around the shul after davening saying “good Shabbos“, look for the newcomers.  Also, seek out someone you’ve never spoken to before, even if you may have davened together for years and never exchanged a word.  After all, we don’t want even one person to fall through the cracks.

Pesach is an appropriate time to focus on this issue.  The halacha dictates that bedikas chometz (the search for chometz), performed on the night before Pesach, must include inspecting the chorin visadakin – the cracks and crevices, because we must make sure that small particles of chometz have not fallen through the cracks.           

We can extract a profound message of inspiration from the mitzvah of bedikas chometz.  We spend weeks preparing our houses for Pesach, carefully scouring and cleaning to be certain that all chometz has been removed.  Yet after all that effort, the night before Pesach, we make one more final check and search the chorin visadakin, to ensure that not one single crumb of chometz was left behind. As we perform a meticulous search for breadcrumbs in the nooks and crannies of our homes, we would do well to remember that just as chometz falls into chorin visadakin, so do people fall into figurative holes as well. Now herein lies the crux of the matter, and this is my essential point. Bedikas chometz should inspire us to invest as much effort greeting people to make sure that they do not fall through the cracks, as we devote to purging breadcrumbs from the cracks and crevices of our homes.

I have focused my remarks on shuls because I served as a pulpit rabbi for over forty years and witnessed many people who were hurt because they were not welcomed properly, but the message is true in all paths of life. There are countless lonely, desperate, and wounded individuals struggling with life’s myriad of problems who would benefit immensely from a few words of encouragement, a warm pat on the shoulder, a heartfelt compliment, an offer of assistance or even a weekly phone call just to say hello. We are all responsible to prevent people from falling through the cracks.

Saying hello is an incredible opportunity: it costs nothing, requires almost no effort and its impact can be immense.  When we greet a person with excitement, we show that they are important and have self-worth. With this small act, we can literally make their day.  The converse is that ignoring a person is degrading and humiliating and can destroy a person’s morale and spirits. In multiple sources the rabbis of old reflected the great importance of a greeting people properly. For example, Shamai would often say, “Receive everyone with a cheerful face” (Avos 1:15). Rav Masya ben Charash exhorted, “Initiate a greeting to every person.” (Avos 4:15) “They said about Rav Yochanan ben Zakai that no one ever preceded him in issuing a greeting, even a non-Jew in the marketplace.” (Berachos 17a). The great rabbis worried about people falling through the cracks.

Chometz symbolizes good intentions gone awry, grand plans and ambitions that sour before fruition.  In contrast, matzah is baked swiftly with alacrity, highlighting   the importance of seizing moments of inspiration as soon as they arrive.

This year, as we search our homes and kindle the flames to burn chometz that we have found, and partake of matzah at the seder and beyond, let us seize the myriad  opportunities to great others  with a smile, and not squander the chance to fulfill this noble mitzvah. Through our actions, we may never fully know how many individuals we will have rescued from the dark abyss of loneliness and painful rejection that lurks beneath the surface for those who sadly fall through the cracks.

Rabbi Yakov Luban served as Senior Rabbinic Coordinator in the OU Kashrus Department from 1984 until the end of 2023. Concurrently, he was the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Torah in Edison, New Jersey. In 2024, Rabbi Luban retired from both positions and resides in Highland Park, New Jersey.